FOODIE FILES: You Are What You Tweet

By on April 13, 2016

A recipe for sharing your foodporn photos at the cyber dinner table.

JACKSON HOLE, WYO – A quick tally of my Instagram feed shows that food photos outnumber everything else I take pictures of by about 5 to 1. There are more cookies than kids, more farmers market produce than pals, and more pictures of cast iron skillet breakfasts than of my handsome husband. Even my adorable dogs (#rosie #orzothepuppy) take a backseat to my foodie feed.

Food, food, food. When did we all get so crazy about taking pictures of our food?

If you join me in this obsession of sharing pictures of food, be consoled that we are not alone. Instagram may be the most popular app for posting food pics with more than 300 million photos tagged “food,” “foodie,” or “foodporn.” Hop on over to FoodGawker, just one of many sites dedicated to food photos, and feast your eyes on hundreds of thousands of enticing pictures of every imaginable dish. Home cooks: Check out the new Food52 app—a constant stream of food-only photos with original recipes (and cool filters inspired by Mario, Julia and David Chang.)

Most food enthusiasts I know are already in the habit of snapping pictures of food to share on social media. The rest of you may wonder what lies at the root of our obsession.

Recipe for a good food photo: Natural light, food in focus, a bird’s eye view. Asian Duck Chopped Salad at Snake River Grill.

Recipe for a good food photo: Natural light, food in focus, a bird’s eye view. Asian Duck Chopped Salad at Snake River Grill.

No one would deny that breaking bread at the same table is the best way for people to connect over food. But this virtual food sharing may satisfy many of the same needs—to be part of a tribe with common interests and values, welcome others into our experience, and learn about food elsewhere. I have Instagram friends all over the world and I love being able to peek into their kitchens to see what’s on their plate—like the Turkish breakfast I spotted on Instagram this morning: poached eggs nestled in a bed of sautéed spinach and chickpeas, served with a hunk of feta.

What do our food photos say about who we are? By posting pictures of what we buy and eat, we brand ourselves as people who care about food. The classic phrase penned by French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin back in 1825 could not be more true today: “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are.” If Brillat-Savarin were alive today, he’d probably put it this way: “You are what you eat and what you post about eating.” Or, if he was a Twitter fan: “You are what you tweet.”

A good food photo should inspire the cook and make everyone else’s mouth water. It should evoke the food’s inherent deliciousness. A bad food photo? Let’s not take any more of those. Here are a few tips for taking drool-worthy photos on Instagram (my preferred food photo platform) to document your life through food.

Natural light. Most restaurant lighting is too dim to take a really flattering food photo, and using a flash brings out unsavory highlights in the food. If you must shoot in suboptimal light, go without a flash and lighten it up later when editing. I have been known to request a seat by the window just so I can shoot in natural light.

Be selective. Quality over quantity. I only post a tiny fraction of my food photos; most don’t make the cut to get shared to the world. When posting restaurant food, I always ask myself “Would the chef be happy with this photo? Is it an accurate representation of what he or she has created?” If it doesn’t make you hungry, really hungry, don’t post it.

Use the iPhone camera. Although it’s easy to push the blue button on the Instagram app to take a picture, the iPhone camera is way better for food photos. You can zoom in and out, set a timer (for food selfies), and take a photo in high definition resolution. Photos can be saved in your files for other non-Instagram uses. Swipe over to the square mode before shooting and the photo will be perfectly cropped once you’ve opened it in Instagram.

160413FoodieFilesFocus, focus, focus. Blurry food pictures are not appetizing at all. In fact, they may have the opposite effect. Hold that camera steady and tap the screen over the part of the photo you want to be most clear. Tap it once to focus, twice to enhance the lighting.

Take a bird’s eye view. Professional food photographers shooting with a DSLR camera, which allows depth of field, macro-focusing, and that cool blurry background, probably take most of the gorgeous food photos on your feed. I love shooting food with my “big girl camera” too, but for Instagram I still favor the spontaneity of shooting with my iPhone. Shooting directly above food is one way to compensate for the camera phone’s lack of depth perception. The bird’s eye view is also very, very trendy, giving your pics a modern edge.

Shoot from the side. Sometimes the background is just as important as the food to give a photo context and meaning. Shooting at a right angle to the subject will let you tell the whole story of that meal, including the mountain backdrop, streamside picnic, or exotic locale.

Keep it real. This may be a matter of taste but overly filtered food photos do not make my mouth water. When taken in natural light, most photos need very little editing—just bump up the brightness, sharpen the contrast, and pick a flattering filter (my food seems to love the Valencia). Maybe play around with not using a filter at all for a more authentic look.

How many hashtags are too many? This is very much a matter of opinion. A string of more than 5 hashtags feels spammy to me, but many food photographers will hashtag every permutation of the word “food” possible. When posting about a recipe, I like to hashtag seasonal ingredients, like eggplant. By following #eggplant, I get more inspiration for cooking in season. My social media-savvy teenagers tell me not to use the eggplant emoji, however, or the peach. Apparently eggplants and peaches aren’t just about food.

What do your food photos say about you? Show me your favorite food posts on Instagram (tag them @jacksonholefoodie). I want to see what you’re cooking and eating! PJH

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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About Annie Fenn, MD

After delivering babies and practicing gynecology for 20 years in Jackson, Annie traded her life as a doctor to pursue her other passion: writing about food, health, sustainability and the local food scene. Follow her snippets of mountain life, with recipes, at www.jacksonholefoodie.com and on Instagram @jacksonholefoodie.

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